Mekedatu dam: Easing one state’s water shortage to make it worse for another?

The ongoing row between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the construction of the Mekedatu reservoir across the Cauvery continued with MK Stalin telling Prime Minister Modi that the Centre must not give its approval to Karnataka for building the reservoir

The Mekedatu reservoir, which will be built across river Cauvery, is expected to solve drinking water problems for Bengaluru and Ramanagara districts, and help generate more hydro-electricity to keep up with the increasing power demand in Karnataka. Representational image: Twitter

There appears to be more turbulence in the political circles of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka at the moment than in the rain-fed Cauvery, which is currently breaching banks at numerous locations due to incessant rains.

The ongoing row between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the construction of the Mekedatu reservoir across the Cauvery continued on Tuesday (September 22), with DMK president MK Stalin telling Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the Centre must not give its approval to Karnataka for building the Mekedatu reservoir as it is “detrimental” to Tamil Nadu.

“The matter is also sub judice,” he added in his letter to the Prime Minister.
According to a party release, the DMK president’s letter was handed over to the Prime Minister in Delhi on Tuesday by party MPs including T R Baalu.

“Incidentally, the civil appeal by Tamil Nadu seeking a restraint order on the proposal is also pending before the Supreme Court and hence the subject matter, involving the construction of Mekedatu reservoir itself is now sub judice,” the letter noted.

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Building a dam across river Cauvery at Mekedatu in Karnataka would hit water flow to Tamil Nadu and threaten existing water supply schemes in the lower riparian state, Stalin said in the letter to Modi.

However, on the other hand, amid strong opposition from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka is doing all it can to speed up the process of construction.

In a recent meeting with Union Minister for Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, who was in Delhi on Friday, requested Javadekar to direct his officials to grant the Terms of Reference for the Mekedatu project.

The Chief Minister also sought early clearances for the dam project, which Stalin referred to as “disappointing”.

Stalin also explained the reason behind the opposition towards the dam project on the Cauvery river. “The proposed Mekedatu reservoir is in ‘violation’ of the final order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal of 2007 as well as the Supreme Court verdict delivered in 2018,” he said.

“The proposed reservoir ‘under the guise of a drinking water project’ would irreversibly affect water flow from river Cauvery to the lower riparian States, particularly Tamil Nadu. Also, it would threaten the very existence of many combined water supply schemes catering to the needs of lakhs of people in Tamil Nadu,” the DMK chief asserted.

Related news: Karnataka desperate to build Mekedatu dam, TN firmly opposes project

“The plan to construct a dam, hence is ‘completely detrimental to the interests of the farmers and the drinking water needs of the common people’ in Tamil Nadu,” Stalin said.

“In fact, unanimous resolutions were passed in the state Assembly, disapproving the above reservoir project against all the norms of the Inter-State River Water Dispute Act,” he added.

In a concluding statement, Stalin appealed to Modi to not grant permission to the Karnataka government to go ahead with the plan for the dam project. “I therefore request you to instruct the concerned Central Ministries neither to give approval for the detailed project report nor for the construction of Mekedatu reservoir as demanded by the Chief Minister of Karnataka which would be against the interests of both the farmers and the people of Tamilnadu.”

One may wonder why Karnataka is insistent to go ahead with the project despite strong protests against the idea. According to the state government, the Mekedatu reservoir project is expected to solve drinking water problems for Bengaluru and Ramanagara districts, and help generate more hydro-electricity to keep up with the increasing power demand in the state.

A Detailed Project Report (DPR) was submitted to the central government in January 2019. The Karnataka government is currently awaiting environmental clearance to go ahead with the project.

In short, it can be said that Tamil Nadu is not in favour of the construction of the reservoir since it will result in further water shortage for the state, while Karnataka wants to take up the project to solve their existing water shortage issues.

Incidentally, this is not the first water dispute that Tamil Nadu is currently witnessing with another state. One may recall the decades-old battle that has been underway between Kerala and Tamil Nadu over the Mullaperiyar dam.

Related news: Yediyurappa writes to PM Modi to clear Mekedatu project

The Mullaperiyar dam was constructed more than 120 years ago over the Mullayar and Periyar rivers, which are located in Kerala, but operated by the Tamil Nadu government. This arrangement was the result of an agreement in the 1880’s that water from the Periyar river would be diverted to the Madras Presidency region (current state of Tamil Nadu) too.

Ideally, Kerala could claim complete control over the river. However, Tamil Nadu continues to claim a portion of the river’s water through the centuries-old agreement, which is backed by the principle of estoppel.

Estoppel is a basic legal principle that prevents an entity from arguing something or asserting a right that contradicts what he/she previously said or agreed to by law.

The dispute intensified once Tamil Nadu began pressing for unfettered colonial rights to control the dam and its waters, based on the lease agreement.

Tamil Nadu, particularly Theni, Madurai, Sivaganga, and Ramnad districts, needs the water from the Periyar river since the water from Vaigai river, which flows through the same region, is not sufficient to meet the needs of all the people dwelling there.

At the same time, Kerala pointed out the unfairness of the lease agreement and challenged its validity.

In yet another development, over the last few years, dam authorities and the Kerala government have expressed concerns regarding weakened structure, and sought to build a new dam in place of the current one.

However, Tamil Nadu refused to take up the option of building a new dam, claiming that building a new dam was mostly for the purpose of gaining unfair tax revenues from developing states to the detriment of the revenue producing states, i.e., a form of wealth distribution.

With water proving to have been a trigger for war in the past (the War over Water between Israel and Arab countries Syria, Jordan, Lebanon over the Jordan river), how will these ongoing water disputes between states end?

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